A county writes strict logging rules

  A pro-logging northern New Mexico county has passed a far-reaching law that mandates watershed-friendly logging practices on private land.

"There's nothing else like this (in the U.S.)," said attorney David Gomez of the Western Environmental Law Center in Taos, N.M., who helped draft the ordinance.

The three-man Rio Arriba County Commission passed the ordinance unanimously this summer. Commissioner Moises Morales, himself a former logger, said it was important to protect water "before it gets too late." He said he saw water supplies diminish significantly in his native Canjilon after heavy logging there several decades ago.

The law makes loggers get a permit and notify neighbors before cutting 25 acres or more. New Mexico State Forestry's "best practices' for logging are required rather than recommended. The law also gives the county the authority to prevent environmental damage from careless logging rather than sue for damages afterward.

The fight for logging oversight began last year, when residents learned of a plan to log up to 60,000 acres on a local watershed. Ranchers argued that the operation threatened not only the health of local water but also their traditional rural Hispanic ways of life.

Opponents argued at eight hearings that the county was stepping on their private property rights.

"We have nothing against logging," said Morales, "but we also have to protect Mother Nature."

*Deborah Begel